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Climate change’s role in allergy season nothing to sneeze at

Dec 02, 2023

This allergy season's pollen count has broken records as well as some Oregonians’ Kleenex budget. And climate change means extreme sneezing and sniffling fits will likely become the norm.

Recent reports by Harvard, Yale, and the USDA all say global warming has accelerated plant growth and therefore the amount of allergens released into the air. Higher concentrations of carbon dioxide also have been linked to the increased production and release of pollen. A 2020 report by the Oregon Health Authority also links climate change with more severe allergies.

The more intense, extended allergy season means some adults who were not allergic before, are now experiencing symptoms including burning, watery eyes and runny nose.

"Usually allergies present earlier in life, and some people do develop allergies later, but that's more rare, past the sixth or seventh decade of life," Alalia Berry, an allergy physician in Corvallis, told KLCC. While she said she hadn't noticed any change in her clientele this year, she added that it's always busy in May, June, and July with people contending with pollen-based allergies, notably grass and tree varieties.

Berry said the first remedy one can take during allergy season is avoidance. Staying indoors with sealed windows and running the AC is often the best set-up. But often people need to venture outside.

"Be out early morning or in the evening during your pollen season," advised Berry, "since the pollen counts tend to be high in the middle of the day, (from) about 10 to 4."

Other steps include over-the-counter treatments including Flo-Nase and Claritin, as well as more extensive ones involving prescription strength medications and shots.

Things are improving. According to Oregon Allergy Associates which track daily counts across the area, Eugene's grass pollen count (particles of pollen per cubic meter of air) was a record-setting 1301 on Tuesday, but was already below 800 on Wednesday.

That's still rough for many, as anything over 200 is considered "very high."

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